On Track - Blackbourn 444

By: Rob Blackbourn

Presented by

fishermans bend fishermans bend

Remember the multifunction polis? Now we move on to the multifunction-airstrip

With lots of usual stuff off-limits again under Victoria’s Lockdown 2.0 I’ve been spending time chasing various themes down internet rabbit holes, occasionally with unexpected results. A search for design info about the Cosworth DFV engine inexplicably led to a report about a race-meeting at Nuriootpa in South Australia in 1949. So take care when exploring internet rabbit-holes…

Apparently Lex Davison was coming to grips with his recently purchased Alfa Romeo P3 at the Nuriootpa meeting, a challenging task according to the report, because there was much to learn with so many different circuits hosting motorsport in those days.

Too many circuits, eh? Them were the days!

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The one constant during the many decades I’ve followed motorsport has been the year-by-year demise of important motorsport venues here and overseas. I’m guessing that, like me, readers around the country have their own happy memories of speedway action and circuit racing at local tracks that no longer exist.

My fondest memories connect with the first tracks my dad took me to as a Melbourne youngster. My top two, the Templestowe Hillclimb and the Fishermans Bend Airstrip get star rankings because they were close enough to home that I could get there under my own steam once I got a bit older. I could ride my pushbike to the Templestowe track from home in Ivanhoe, and Fishermans Bend was a piece of cake – a train to the city, then a bus to The Bend.

Templestowe was great. It was a challenging track and the good guys did it proud – the Maestro: Bruce Walton, plus Norm Beechey, Lex Davison, Stan Jones. Even Brocky. The list goes on….

Fishermans Bend, located on Melbourne’s CBD fringe, was a serious venue in the day with hay-bale barriers marking out a demanding, 3.3km, five-corner circuit on the airstrip’s runways and roads. It hosted meetings for tin-tops, sports cars, open-wheelers, motor bikes, the lot, often drawing crowds of 30,000 and more. In the pits you’d see Ferraris, Coopers, Maseratis and Lotuses as you mingled with competitors including Brabham, Jane, Davison, Lukey and so on.

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For a time the authorities turned a blind eye to the unused airstrip’s use as an unofficial test and tuning track for motorsport competitors. It could be accessed by continuing down Lorimer Street past the locked entry gates and into the nearby rubbish tip. A dirt-track behind the tip then circled back to the main runway.

Memories of my airstrip adventures include embarrassment at how slow my ‘fast’ Triumph road bike turned out to be in a run down the straight in company with race bikes. Another was an illicit late night attempt to coax a hot-rodded pre-war Ford V8 to reach the magic ‘ton’ there. I can remember the fence at the end of the runway and beyond it, GMH’s Plant 4 foundry, looming ever larger through the feeble glow from the 6-volt headlights as we willed the speedo needle toward 100mph.

My final airstrip visit related to the introduction of Holden’s first all-synchro 3-speeder. With pre-production testing all completed satisfactorily in HR models, the poo hit the fan big-time when the gearbox unexpectedly produced strong body resonances in pre-production HKs just prior to the model’s launch. I ended up in the back seat of an HK at the airstrip wrangling a sound-level meter and tape recorder as an engineer drove up and down the runway. With the signature frequency of the offending noise revealed by the recording, calculations connecting gear-teeth counts with rotational speeds identified the guilty gear pair. If I remember correctly, some rapidly executed refinement of the tooth profiles of the gears eliminated the resonance without any need to stiffen HK body panels.

 

From Unique Cars #444, Sep 2020

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